After my bus journey experience where I was robbed traveling from La Paz to Uyuni, I came to the realization that even though all my photos had been taken from me, I still had my memories of those wonderful experiences in my mind and no one could take that away from me! I didn’t have much time to sulk and be depressed because from the moment we arrived in Uyuni, we had to start our new journey to see the Uyuni Salt Flats! They are the largest salt flats in the world and travelers from all over the world love to visit this small town by the bus load, as it is an easy access point to visit the Salar de Uyuni, a natural wonder that for many is awe inspiring because of its unworldly landscape!
Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world with almost 11,000 square kilometers (a little over 4,000 square miles), along with an elevation of about 12,000 feet above sea level, which might actually make it the highest salt flats in the world as well! These gigantic salt flats were formed by multiple prehistoric lakes, which has caused the entire area to be covered by what they call a salt crust.
Since Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world, you can assume there is a lot of salt and sodium within the boundaries of the salt flat. If that is what you thought, you would be correct! It is estimated to contain 10 billion tons of salt! That is a lot of salt. They extract about 25,000 tons a year for the production of salt products.
Other than salt and sodium, the Uyuni Salt Flats have large amounts of lithium, potassium, magnesium and borax. Lithium is the most important element harvested as it is used in many electric batteries. Bolivia has 43% of the world’s known lithium reserves and the majority of those reserves are located within the Uyuni Salt Flats.
I love the Aymara legend of how the salt flats came to exist. There are multiple mountains that surround the salt flats, most notably, Tunupa, Kusku, and Kusina. In the legend, these mountains were giant people where Tunupa married Kusku, but Kusku ended up leaving Tunupa and ran away with Kusina. Tunupa was so sad that she started to cry while she was breastfeeding their son. While she was crying, her tears mixed with her breast milk and formed the great salt flats of Uyuni! I love that legend and I loved hearing about so many of these myths while traveling throughout South America! Some local residents consider Tunupa to be an important God and believe Salar de Uyuni should actually be called Salar de Tunupa instead. Maybe one day, they will change the name.
When it comes to the weather, it really doesn’t matter when you plan to visit the Salar de Uyuni because of the fairly stable temperatures, but make sure to take a jacket to stay warm. With an average high temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit from November to January and a low of 55 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter months. At night during the whole year the temperature will be between 16 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit so you will need to bring a jacket with you to stay warm on the high elevated Altiplano of Bolivia! You can visit Salar de Uyuni throughout the entire year, during the dry season or during the rainy season when a thin sheet of water covers the majority of the salt flats, which causes there to be a perfect reflection of the sky and clouds above making it seem the sky is endless! This mirror effect on the salt flats allows for multiple photo opportunities that are spectacular. I saw these from all the different tour operators showing you pictures trying to get you to come on their tour.
There is a variety of different tours you can take to visit the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats from a one day tour to a 4 day tour or longer if you plan to add transportation to and from Uyuni while visiting other locations throughout southern Bolivia and northern Chile. I went on a one day tour of the Salt Flats and I wish I would have had more time to do a longer tour. The one day tour is great though because you do get to see the salt flats and it is the cheapest way to do it. On a one day tour you will be able to see the vast land area of the salt flats, the salt hotels, the salt mounds, and the Island of Incahuasi, which is actually a national park and is located in the middle of the salar and is covered in giant cacti! You can also take a multi-day tour leaving from Uyuni where you will visit the red and green colored lakes with flocks of flamingos, hot springs, geyser fields, along with volcanic landscapes with multiple rock formations. If I get a chance to return to Bolivia and to Uyuni, I will definitely do that!
While visiting the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats you will be able to take unique photos because of the white flat landscape below your feet that seem to continue forever! You can easily play with the perspective and take some amazing photos. It’s a good idea to bring many small and interesting items with you like toy animals, toy vehicles, action figures along with regular props and everyday items like sunglasses, water bottles, and hiking boots and just be creative with your photos while playing with perspective. To easily play with that perspective of the endless salt flats and get the best photograph it is important for the photographer to lie on their stomach and rest the camera on the ground. I spent most of my time holding the camera in my hands and the pictures didn’t look as good. Once I finally learned to get low, it was time to head to our next stop. Take lots of photos because they are not all going to come out great, so just remember to shoot, shoot, shoot. One photo that always turns out well with salt flats being your back drop is to jump in the air!
The Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats are a once in a lifetime experience and are absolutely fascinating for it’s unique landscape. They truly are one of the great Treasures Of Traveling not only in Bolivia, but also in South America! Make sure to add this location to your bucket list as you will not regret it!
— Luke Keeler